It’s summer and many of our clients are reflecting on their service programs accomplishments and opportunities. The key issues we keep hearing are:
- I have supportive policies and programs. How do I get more engagement?
- What we’re doing seems really scattershot and not necessarily aligned with our mission. How do I help us be more focused without squashing initiative?
- We’ve had some great events and activity, but no one seems to recognize what we’re doing.
The key takeaway: you are not alone.
Creating a culture of service is a long-term investment that require regular infusions of fresh energy to get the returns you want in terms of engagement and impact. Here are a few relatively quick exercises you can do to get your program back on track.
Start with “Why”
Do a quick exercise with your core team or your leadership in which you ask them to articulate why you have a service program in the first place (don’t do it for them). While service might be core to the mission, because it doesn’t impact leadership’s lives on a daily basis, it’s easy for them to lose sight of the reason you do it in the first place.
“We just always have” means it’s easy to take for granted the investment it takes to make a service program work well. By forcing leadership to articulate why it matters to them, you create space for them to re-engage in the program and potentially bring new energy, ideas, and resources to the table.
Make it Core
The days when service programs were a “nice-to-have” that sat alongside the important work are over. Service programs are proven to increase engagement, retention, and success. Take a few moments to align the language and objectives of your program with the organization’s articulated goals. How does this program help you achieve those goals? How does it help you to live our your stated values or live your mission? Share that language broadly.
Put Your Ear to the Ground
It’s easy to think you know how the people in your organization want to be connected to the community, but if you’re not getting the level of engagement you might, it might be a good moment to question those assumptions.
Do people want projects to be organized for them? Do they want to do the organizing themselves (an opportunity for leadership) or do they want something “plug and play” that allows them build on previous work. Maybe you have constituencies for all of the above.
Maybe some people just want their existing volunteer work be recognized. A quick survey in which you ask people to rank their preferences might yield some interesting results. Similarly, asking people for issue areas or organizations they would be interested in supporting might surface some good ideas, or empower people the opportunity to organize something on behalf of a personal passion.
Highlight Your Heroes
Any culture building effort requires heroes. How do we recognize the people living out the values we share? It’s an easy thing to overlook, particularly for people who just want to focus on the work, but it’s important to recognize that this is a part of the work. By regularly lifting up the impact you are having and the people leading those efforts, you are creating space for others to join you.
Set a timeline and create a template for recognitions that make it a part of the regular routine and not a special one-off effort. Whether that’s a weekly, monthly, or quarterly efforts, be sure you take the time to highlight your heroes.
Keep it simple and get it done
The most successful programs we have seen have at their core a simple and consistent set of expectations and processes. Changes in leadership, engagement, and environment can cause programs to ebb and flow, but a strong foundation allows leaders to build on something that is sustainable over time.
Let us know your thoughts and experiences!